The Oasis – Draft 3 [Short Story]

The finished product, to be compared with the first draft.

“The Oasis”
By Reed Buck

The sun was lengthening in the sky when Terjjen found himself standing in the shade of the northeastern portcullis of Trastor, patting his mare Celtoer in a wholly unnecessary attempt to calm her. She was not the one who was upset.

The parting crowd announced the arrival of a carriage. It rolled to a stop on steel wheels – a rarity in Trastor – led by a team of four sleek black geldings who eyed Celtoer with regal contempt. A manservant, vested in ghastly purples, leapt from the front of the carriage and tucked a stepstool under the door, which he opened in a flourish.

“Announcing Her Grandeur, the Contessa Aurevieu, Lady of the Seventh Court of Trastor and – ”

“You’re late.”

Terjjen offered his greeting to the heels of the woman just now stepping from the carriage. After a suitably gratifying moment of stunned silence, the manservant finished:

“…and Heir to the Duchy of Southern Trast.”

The Contessa descended from the carriage in a flood of coats and skirts which stirred up dust on the path. Her eyes, a piercing silver, found their way to Terjjen’s in due time.

“I presume you are our Waymaker?” she said.

“Aye,” Terjjen said, stalking up to her. “And you’re late.”

“I am aware of the time of my arrival,” the Contessa said, her one hand resting on the carriage door. “I am also aware of the time it takes for a woman of my stature to make preparations for travel; and here I am, not a moment later than I needed to be, nor a moment earlier than I could.”

Terjjen spat to the side in answer.

“We shall require a few moments to transfer our essential belongings to your mount,” the Contessa said. Behind her, the manservant hustled to obey.

“That’s just fine,” Terjjen replied. “I’ll be over here.”

“I was rather hoping you could take that time to introduce yourself to our last companion.” The Contessa rapped upon the carriage door with one hand. “Olienna?”

A woman leapt out as if her entire purpose had just been realized. Perhaps ten years Terjjen’s junior, her face bespoke an innocence Terjjen could only faintly remember having at some point in his life. Her eyes a soft blue like calm waters, she regarded him with a balmy smile and a curtsey.

Blue eyes meant she was not a relative of the Contessa Aurevieu. Perhaps a bastress, but unlikely given her traveller’s clothing. The Baron had previously implied that she was not a traveller, but she did not have the bearing of a personal servant. The only conclusion, impossible as it seemed, was that she was a….

“Waymaker,” the woman said, offering her hand and an even brighter smile. Terjjen was surprised to find himself taking it.

“Waymaker,” he replied. Then, to the Contessa, “One guide not enough for you?”

“Olienna is a friend’s relative,” the older woman replied. “She has only just begun her career and asked to be taken along.”

“What?” Terjjen glanced back and forth between the Contessa and the Waymaker, but neither seemed to signal an impending joke. “You think this is some kind of joy-trip?”

“Of course not. The exact opposite, in fact.” The Contessa stepped aside to let the manservant struggle by under the weight of a large crate, which she tapped meaningfully. “We carry precious cargo on this journey, and as such need as many of your kind for protection as can be afforded.”

“As many of my – ” Terjjen gritted his teeth and exhaled. “This is highly inappropriate, Your Grandeur. Waymakers don’t work in pairs, as this girl well knows; or if she doesn’t, she has even less experience than you claim.”

“This occasion, for this price, they do.” The Contessa patted Olienna on the arm and offered her a warm smile. When she turned back to Terjjen, the smile had disappeared. “I believe the two of you will… quite enjoy each other’s company. Now, may I get acquainted with your mount?”

* * *

By and by, the three companions made their way into the Torn Forest on a vaguely northeastern bearing. Terjjen led, followed by the young Waymaker Olienna, and then by the Contessa on Celtoer’s back. The rich fool had tied the crate over the mare’s rump, secured with thick lengths of twine around her belly. Terjjen could sense her simmering distaste with each clopping step.

They wove in between wraithlike trees twisted into bizarre and disturbing positions. They were the products of a world torn apart, their tortured frames bowing and crying out without a sound.

“My Lord, how horrifying,” the Contessa Aurevieu at one point muttered.

“This is what happens outside the cities when the quakes come,” Terjjen replied, picking his way through a dense patch of creepers. “Out here, there’s no shockstone to absorb all that wrath. The land takes the brunt of it.”

They made good time, despite the frequent stops for Terjjen to hack through foliage for Celtoer. Only two quakes hit by the time the sun dipped below the horizon, and they were as children’s tantrums – loud and ineffectual.

Before setting up camp, Terjjen took one last moment to secure the position of Helzevejn on the horizon. He closed his eyes, blocking out as much of the sunset as possible, and let the petals of his mind bloom. Upon the plains of his consciousness, many bright lights appeared, each shimmering with a different twinkle and hue. Helzevejn gave a steady burnt orange glow, situated directly on their course, some several dozens of miles away. He noted its barely perceptible movement northward before opening his eyes once more.

“We make camp here for the night,” he said

“And what of Helzevejn?” the Contessa said, collapsing to the ground and massaging her saddle-sore legs.

“Heading northward, not quickly. I think we should reach it in an eighth’s time at most.”

“Check again for me, if you would.”

“There’s no need to – ”

Check again.

Terjjen glowered at the Contessa; she held his stare without flinching.

He sighed and closed his eyes, letting the locations come back to him. “Yeah, just like I said. Moving north.”

The muscles around the Contessa’s mouth tightened as she frowned. “Well. I suppose that will have to do.”

* * *

Dinner was a simple affair of the kind Terjjen preferred: a wholesome stew of goat meat and thick mushroom broth, filling his stomach with a pleasant warmth.

As he ate, he regarded Olienna. “So,” he said.

“So,” she said, turning to him with a smile.

“From where do you hail?”

“Vetyn,” she said, her eyes clouding with memories. “It has been my home for as long as I’ve known.”

Vetyn…. “Isn’t that the trackless district?”

“Aye.”

“Yes,” the Contessa Aurevieu corrected from where she sat upon a down blanket.

“Yes,” Olienna repeated, her smile faltering for a moment.

“They’re the ones who killed all their Waymakers fifty-some-odd years ago, right?”

Olienna shook her head. “Nothing nearly so cruel. There was a forced exodus, though. The Vetynae… well, they’re strange folk. They believe the answer to the world’s major problems can be found in technologies.”

“Technologies… what, like metalworking?”

“In a way.” Olienna paused. “They think everything can be done with the right sort of device. Travel, energy, home comforts… all within reach if someone cunning enough can develop a perfect machine.”

“And how did Waymakers get in the way of that?”

Olienna shrugged. “They didn’t. Vetynae just don’t like what they can’t explain, and Waymakers’ abilities lie in that realm. So they banished them. We have these guides instead – they act as pseudo-Waymakers, but without any real skill. We use them for short-range travel.”

A bunch of scientists, lost in the woods, insisting they didn’t need a Waymaker’s guidance. The thought made Terjjen chuckle.

“Okay, so then how did you manage to live there for – what, twenty years? Without being noticed as a Waymaker?”

She laughed. “I had the good fortune of not being aware of my gift until just recently.”

Terjjen sat up. “Beg pardon?”

“Not all districts outside the Empire encourage the awakening process. In Vetyn, I was too busy stretching the capacity of my mind with mathematics to stretch it in other ways.”

Terjjen nodded, draining his bowl. “So what happened?”

“Well, I became a mathematician – one of the district’s best. They wished to move me to the capital city, but without Waymakers, we quickly became lost en route. Our guide – well, you can imagine. Apparently starvation is enough of an incentive for awakening.

“Suddenly I could see all the districts in mind. I led my group out of the mires and was promptly exiled from my home as reward. I made my way to Trastor, where I knew my father had friends. And here we all are now.”

Terjjen nodded and returned to his stew.

“Wait just a moment,” she said, beckoning with a finger. “You think I share my story without expecting recompense?”

“What do you want to know?”

“Let’s start with where you’re from.”

A half-grimace curled on his face. “Kval.”

“Oh.” Olienna bit her lip. “Were you… born in Kval? Or… taken there?”

“You mean abducted?” Terjjen sighed. “No, I was born there. I never knew anything else for my first twenty years.”

“Is it as bad as they say?”

“Worse.”

“Oh.” And then: “How?”

He swiped one finger around the edge of his bowl, scooping up the last of the stew. “How do you mean, how?”

“What can be worse than torture?”

He sighed. “Olienna, you seem sweet enough. I don’t want to ruin your conceptions of the glamorous life of a Waymaker.”

“You shouldn’t patronize someone you barely know,” she said, folding her arms across her chest.

He smiled without mirth. “Fine. What can be worse than torture? Torture implies interest. To torture someone, you must have an investment in their pain, develop a bond with them. I had my share of torture when I was in Kval, and I learned to prefer it.”

“To what?”

Neglect.”

His attempt at vehemence failed him, and the word came from his throat like the cry of a wounded animal.

“I – ” Olienna began.

“Have you ever starved because your master had so forgotten of your existence that she couldn’t be bothered to remind a servant to bring you food?” He turned, affixing her with a stare that finally made her avert her gaze. “Have you ever been hitched to the front of a wagon with the horses and ran alongside them? Been whipped with them? Ate where they did? Have you ever had to cross the endless stone wasteland with no sleep for an eighth, running barefoot on blistered heels, because your master didn’t see you as a creature that needed rest?”

His tears glimmered in the firelight. He didn’t reach up to wipe them away. “When you cease to be even a resource, Olienna,” he said, “when you are regarded as a fact of existence and nothing more, you will know what is worse than torture. And when the rest of the world turns its back on your plight, then you will know hell.”

He stood and moved to Celtoer, unpacking his sleeping roll.

“But you got out,” Olienna called.

He turned. “Sorry?”

“You got out, didn’t you? You’re in Trastor now, under the protection of the Empire. The Contessa told me you lived in a mansion! You have a future to look forward to.”

He tried to grimace, but eventually settled on a rueful smile. “You really aren’t a Waymaker, are you?”

“And what do you mean by that?”

“If you were one of our kind….” He shook his head. “You wouldn’t be talking about futures.”

“Oh, ignore him, dear,” the Contessa called from her perch on the blanket. “It is always a good thing to mind one’s future; that is how one rises to greatness, despite one’s birthright.”

“And you would know about birthrights, wouldn’t you?” Terjjen muttered. Celtoer nickered.

“For your information, Waymaker,” the Contessa said, “I have dealt with and risen above more than my share of adversity and issue.”

“What, the silver spoon made your food taste strange?”

“The only difference between you and I,” she continued, “is that I face my problems, and learn to turn them to my advantage. Did you know I was not born a Contessa? I only ascended to this office on the wings of my own cunning and vision. And should I continue to move upward, I believe it will be for much the same reason.”

Terjjen barked with laughter, to push the tears back. “Right. Well, while you move upward, I’ll be getting some sleep for the night. Olienna, I suggest you do the same.”

* * *

That night, Terjjen surfaced from tumultuous dreams to find a new light in his mind. A deep, shimmering azure shade, the color of clarity. The color of an oasis in a desert.

He sat up, eyes still closed, observing the light soundlessly. There was something different about it – other than the fact that it was new. He watched it for some time, trying to determine what it was. It was only when Irridia crossed it that he finally realized –

It was not moving.

He waited several long moments, his posture rigid, breathing slow and calm. The oasis refused to move, even slightly, from where it lay.

A powerful sensation of tranquility washed over Terjjen, accompanied by several thoughts. Whatever this city was, it contained human life, else he would not be able to sense it. Its recent appearance suggested it had just been constructed. And the shameless grace with which it stood still amidst the drifting of the other districts told him something else.

This oasis had almost assuredly been built by Waymakers.

A sudden vision coursed through his mind: all the Waymakers, every single one in the Empire and the outer districts, leaving in the night, stealing away to this oasis. He imagined his people finally coming to a place where they felt safe – a place where, without knowledge of the location, the rest of the world could never find them.

We could be at peace.

His mind was set. The oasis called to him; he needed to move to it immediately.

Terjjen opened his eyes to sudden dim firelight. Olienna sat at the fire, heedless to his gaze, bent over some kind of notebook. Her pen scribbled furiously across the page, filling it with symbols. She startled slightly when he tapped her on the shoulder.

“What are you doing up?” she whispered, her eyes sliding to where the Contessa lay prone in the throes of slumber.

“Same as you,” he said. “You felt it, didn’t you?”

“Felt what?”

He frowned, feeling the errant threads of the past few days weaving together into something resembling an unpleasant truth.

“Where is Weijrne?” he asked, his voice devoid of emotion.

Olienna’s brow furled. “I’m sorry?”

“Right now. What bearing is it on?”

She half-shrugged. “I don’t – why does that matter?”

“Just tell me. Close your eyes and see it.”

She bit her lip, hesitated. Her eyes flicked for the merest moment toward the notebook still clutched in her hand.

It was over in a flash. Terjjen held the notebook, dangling it in close proximity to an astonished Olienna’s face. She reached out but hesitated when he wiggled it over the fire.

“What are you?” he asked.

“I – ”

“You are no Waymaker.”

She gave a jerk of a nod.

“So what are you?”

“I’m… a mathematician.”

Terjjen scanned the book from his periphery. It did appear filled with numbers, not that he knew them particularly well. Teaching himself to read had been difficult enough. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked, brandishing the book at arm’s length.

“It’s formulae,” she said, her voice pitchy. “They predict the movement of the districts.”

Predict the…. “What does that mean?”

“It’s what a Waymaker does with their gift, only with math. I can use it to predict where the districts and cities will be located in the future.”

“That’s not possible.” Terjjen took an unconscious half-step back.

“It is,” she said.

A deafening whirlwind of thoughts howled in Terjjen’s mind, and all that came to mind was the oasis. He could still feel it on the verge of his consciousness, a tide pulling him inexorably toward the light.

He shook his head slowly, spat sideways into the flames. Sizzling filled the air as he tossed the notebook back to Olienna.

“Doesn’t matter to me. You can lead the noble pain-in-the-ass to Helzevejn on your own with your formulae.”

He turned back toward his crumpled sleeping roll.

“Wait, you’re leaving us? Just because of… this?”

He snorted. “You couldn’t make me leave a job. I just… need to go. There’s a calling. Your kind wouldn’t understand it.”

She exhaled a bark of sardonic laughter. “Why don’t you try me, Waymaker?”

He knelt by his roll, listening to the padding of her footsteps as she advanced on him.

“There’s an oasis,” he said. “I need to – ”

“What did you just say?”

Her tone gave him pause to swing back about and face her. Her whole body had gone still, her white-knuckled fingers clutching the notebook to her chest.

“I said there’s an oasis,” he said.

“Why do you use that exact word?”

He shrugged, turning back to his sleeping roll.

“Terjjen, listen to me.”

Olienna sighed when he did not turn. “Despite what most think, the movements of the districts aren’t random. They’re tectonic patterns – they have to do with the surface of the earth shifting around. Those patterns can be deduced through mathematics. In Vetyn, I was the leader of the team attempting to make those deductions.”

Terjjen turned, ignoring a rising feeling of unease.

“One night I was working late and I stumbled upon something – an overlooked variable that fit into the equation and solved it.” Her eyes glimmered in the firelight. “I was so excited, I had to talk to somebody. So I went wandering throughout the Vetyn research center, looking for anyone who was still working, and I stumbled into a room for a project coded Oasis.”

She inhaled deeply. “Terjjen, Oasis is a trap for Waymakers. The Vetyna government created it with the goal of attracting all the Waymakers to one location. They planned to reveal it contingent upon my team’s discovery of a mathematical alternative to Waymakers… so they could then massacre them.”

It took a moment for the full meaning to sink in.

“You wanted to destroy us and replace us with formulae.” Terjjen’s voice emerged hoarse from his throat.

“You have to understand how they think in Vetyn,” Olienna said. “They loathe what they cannot explain with science. For the longest time, the only thing that stood between them and complete progress was a dependence on your people.”

“You were going to kill us all. You were going to slaughter us just because – because what? Because we can see where the districts move?” Terjjen clawed at the skin of his forehead, scoring gouges above his eye. “I would give anything to be normal. And you were going to kill us?!”

His scream fell upon the wretched trees.

“Not me,” Olienna said in a small voice. “As soon as I found out what they were doing, I left, and I took my formulae with me.” She gazed at him through eyes laced with tears. “But don’t you see, Terjjen? We can do something to stop it! We can – ”

“No,” he said, his voice trembling with rage.

“But we – ”

“No. Do not speak. Just leave me, please.”

The tears finally fell from her eyes, drawing trails down her cheeks.

“As you wish.”

She withdrew, her footsteps beating a steady path back to her own sleeping space. Terjjen crawled into his sleeping roll and lay still until the soft sounds of sleep filled the clearing.

Then he sat up.

Crept over to where Olienna lay snoring, facing away from him.

Extricated the notebook from where it lived in her satchel.

Returned to the fire and fed the pages to the coals.

On a whim, he moved to where the Contessa’s crate of precious cargo lay near Celtoer and pried it open. Inside, a hollow black emptiness greeted him.

He felt gorge rise in his throat. Nothing they say is true.

Terjjen secured his belongings atop Celtoer and left. Behind him, the fire finished devouring Olienna’s notebook and collapsed into smoldering ashes.

* * *

The next day, as the sun reached its zenith, the outer wall of the oasis appeared on the horizon. The Torn Forest had given way to a prairie of waist-high grass, through which it became obvious that Olienna was tracking him.

He stopped until she caught up, out of breath and out of her usual grin.

“You track well,” he said.

She panted for several seconds before answering. “I thought you were going to ride your horse, but you walked instead.”

“The Contessa will be dead because of you,” Terjjen said.

Olienna shook her head. “It was… odd. I told the Contessa Aurevieu you’d left, and she just smiled and said she knew it was going to happen. Then she told me to follow you.”

Terjjen shrugged.

“Where are you going?” Olienna asked.

“I’m going to enter the oasis and see whether you’re telling the truth.”

“You know I am.”

He sighed. “I guess I do.”

“You’ll be throwing your life away for nothing.”

He watched her, noting the care with which she watched him back. “Olienna, I have never had a life,” he said.

They were silent for a moment.

“Look,” she finally said. “I know how you feel.”

He snorted.

“I do. You may think no one else can know suffering, but I have. I left everything I knew behind – my family and friends, everyone I loved – because I couldn’t be a part of the Vetynae’s plans for your people. And those loved ones? They sold me out in an instant to the Vetyn military. I almost didn’t make it out. I suffered, same as you, but I also did what you’ve forgotten to do.”

“And what’s that?”

“Fight.” She grabbed him by the wrist, formed his hand into a fist under hers. “You don’t have to just accept the status quo. You can enlist the Emperor’s help against the Vetynae, or against Kval. You can change things, Terjjen.”

He pulled his hand away. “Things don’t change, Olienna. The Kvallians have enslaved their Waymakers for the last five hundred years. You said yourself the Vetynae exiled their Waymakers half a century ago. Our leaders haven’t lifted a finger against that kind of treatment, just because those districts are outside their precious Empire.”

“Fine,” she said. “Then do it yourself.”

He sighed. “Do what myself?”

“Fight back.”

“It’s not – ”

“That thing, the – the Oasis – is anchored in place by steel cables as thick as a man’s trunk,” Olienna said. “I saw them in the schematics. They’re driven hundreds of feet into the earth, perfectly balanced to prevent the city from moving. But if even one of them were shut down or released, the whole city would face a massive pressure imbalance. It would tear itself apart, and then the Waymakers wouldn’t be heading straight into a trap anymore. Terjjen, you could save your people and deal a blow to the Vetynae all at once.”

“Olienna, please. Just stop.”

“No.” Olienna stopped walking, folding her arms across her chest. “You know what else the Contessa Aurevieu said before I left? She told me that you were her precious cargo. Terjjen, I think she believes in you. I think she wants you to do this.”

Terjjen’s eyes narrowed. “Wait. What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know, just the way she talked. She wants to help us, I know it.”

“How would she even know about the Oasis?”

Olienna fell silent.

“Those were secret projects, right?” Terjjen continued, rounding on her. “Your people shared them with no one. How did she know about the Oasis?”

“I – well….” Olienna shrugged. “She was close with my father; maybe he told her. She’s had dealings in Vetyn before. I don’t know!”

“She has friends in Vetyn,” Terjjen said, feeling an uncomfortable prickling in the nape of his neck. “Close enough to trust her with the knowledge of the Oasis. But she’s willing to betray them and send us to sabotage it. Why?”

“Like I said, to help Waymakers.”

“Oh, no,” he said, stalking away from her. A groan of laughter filtered up from within him. “Oh, no. No, you can’t really believe that, can you? Could you really be that stupid?!” He clutched his scalp with both hands, fighting back tears.

“What, then?” Olienna said quietly.

He thought, his eyes scanning back and forth as he thought.

“If we destroy the Oasis, the Vetynae will seek revenge. The Contessa could easily spread lies that you were a spy from the Empire. It’ll start a war.”

Olienna’s eyes widened. “You think she wants a war?”

Terjjen shook his head. “Not the war itself – what the war can bring. There are ways for smart people to profit. She’s… looking for something.”

He rose, feeling the realization sinking into his chest. “The Emperor is old. Placid. He’s maintained peace for over thirty years. There’s no way he would start a war with the Vetyn. The Contessa will force a conflict and then depose the Emperor when he refuses to fight a war. If she does it right, most of the Empire will be behind her.”

Olienna lifted an eyebrow. “Isn’t that a touch preposterous?”

“Preposterous?” Terjjen shut his eyes against the sun. “Olienna, I opened her ‘precious cargo’ last night. The damned crate was empty. She told you I was her precious cargo? What does that sound like to you?”

“Like – ”

“Like she orchestrated this whole thing,” he said. “Like she knew that if she put us together – you, the one who knew about the Oasis, and me, the one unstable enough to destroy it – then we would swing the sword for her.”

Olienna was silent for some time.

“This is bad,” she finally said. “What if she actually seeks war against Vetyn? She could use the opportunity to crush the Empire’s most powerful opposition.”

“So?” Terjjen folded his arms across his chest.

“So then there’s nothing to keep her from imposing a dictatorship. Do you see? She could enslave the whole of the continent under a military state.”

“So?” Terjjen repeated.

Olienna stared at him. “You don’t actually want that. You pretend you don’t care, but you do.”

He raised an eyebrow and said nothing.

“Terjjen,” she said, a note of desperation creeping into her voice.

He turned away and continued through the field.

* * *

They approached the oasis together, the outer wall rising from the ground in front of them like a monument to the sun. As they drew closer, Terjjen began to pick out a portcullis, several windows, and a lowered drawbridge. The tension in his gut refused to abate, and though he knew better, he still found himself hoping that this might be a haven for Waymakers.

How pathetic was that? He knew it could not be the case; yet his heart could not let go of the idea of a place where he could finally live free.

They drew closer to the entryway, close enough to see a figure or two atop the walls, pacing back and forth. The tension spread and grew until it felt as though Terjjen’s chest was imploding.

“Terjjen,” Olienna whispered.

He didn’t turn. “Don’t try to dissuade me.”

She sighed. “I was just going to say that, when we enter, don’t tell them that you’re a Waymaker.”

He nodded, mouth dry. They entered the shadow of the portcullis, and it was now that Terjjen could clearly see the thick steel chains snaking from the outer wall into the ground at regular intervals, like the stakes and ropes of a massive tent.

“Halt!”

The voice belonged to a bearded man standing inside the threshold of the oasis, who held a strange machine – the length of an arm, it looked to be a metallic tube with an open hollow at one end. Apparently a frightening weapon, because Olienna shrank back from it.

“How did you find this place?” the man said. The moment the words left his mouth, Terjjen knew his hopes were lost – the man had a thick Vetyn accent and was clearly not a Waymaker.

“Our guide – he -” Olienna began.

Terjjen moved faster than she could finish her sentence. His broadstaff came down upon the man’s skull with a sickening crack. Before his body had fallen, Olienna was dashing to the left, tugging Terjjen by the hand. Several angry yells came from behind them, along with thunderous booms and zipping noises and rocks that pelted at their feet and past their heads. The Vetynae carried some sort of super-slingshots.

A last boom rang out and Olienna pitched forward, her hand catching on the door of a small shack. She thrust it open and beckoned Terjjen inside.

The moment the door was shut, Terjjen grabbed the nearest heavy object – a half-full bookcase – and pushed it over the threshold. A moment later, a furious rattle sounded from outside as at least five Vetynae tried to shove the door open. Terjjen put his whole weight against the bookcase.

“Olienna, help,” he said, glancing to the side. And then again, this time taking in the whole scene.

The bloody streak across her hand. The pale, clammy quality of her face and skin. The weak smile she offered him as she slumped down to the floor.

“Have you decided yet?” she said in a halting whisper.

The world shrank to just the two of them. Even the curses of the Vetynae outside faded.

“What?” he said.

She spoke slowly, each breath a labor. “We’re in… the control room… for one of the cables.” She pointed with a shaky hand to a desk upon which several buttons and levers stood in neat order. “The western piton, I think.”

“I don’t…” He fell silent, staring at her wounds. How could a slingshot have done so much damage to Olienna? She was bleeding so liberally.

“The others… don’t have any record of my breakthrough,” she said. “And you burned my notes. When I’m dead… they won’t be able to figure it out, maybe for years. That’s as much of a head start as you’ll get.”

“Olienna….”

“Shut up, Terjjen,” she wheezed. “All you have to do… is go over to that panel… and find a button marked emergency release. You press it, and this city will rip itself limb… from limb. You’ll save your people… and damn the rest of us.”

Terjjen felt his breath coming in short gasps. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.

“And when it’s all over, and you’ve – you’ve paid for your freedom in blood… you’d better look back and ask yourself something.”

She was quiet for a long moment, so quiet that Terjjen thought she might be dead. Then, in a raspy gurgle, she said:

What happens when the tortured become the torturers?

 

 

 

“General Terjjen, born a slave with no name, has lived to incite the Waymaker rebellion, the consequences of which have given birth a new age for the Empire. He is unequivocally the most selfless man I have ever met, and I fully expect his success in putting down the Irridian dissidents in the West.”

-Grand Empress Aurevieu,
in her commendation speech to General Terjjen of the Waymaker Corps

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